Greek Mountain Tea / Sideritis syriaca

 I visited an ex-colleague in Athens, Greece some 20 years ago. He offered me tea of a plant I didn’t know.  He called it mountain tea from the Greek  τσάι του βουνού…  He told me it was one of the two most popular herbal teas in Greece, used both for pleasure and to prevent colds.  Looking it up in a book on the flowers of Crete,  where he was from, it turned out to be Sideritis syriaca.  At the time I’d never heard of it and was puzzled as to why one of Greece’s most prized herb teas wasn’t known in Northern Europe. After all, most of our herbs originate in the Mediterranean countries.  I searched for seed and in the early days of the Internet I traded some with someone in Italy.


To my surprise, the resultant aromatic plants thrived in my garden in a dry well drained spot.  Not that surprising as I found out that the plant was usually wild harvested high up in the White Mountains of Crete (ssp. syriaca, despite its name), an area with not that dissimilar a climate to where I live.  I concluded that perhaps this herb was easier for me to grow than further south in Europe, not liking wet winter conditions. This theory was strengthened when my first plants died one w inter after I had removed a tree which had kept the place I was growing it dry….and subsequent replants also died . However, I have seen it in botanical gardens in recent years (Wisley and Hilliers in England) as well as Copenhagen and Århus (Denmark) and Gøteborg (Gothenburg). I alslo saw it growing in the Tromsø Botanical Garden at close to 70 deg. N in Norway. The herb also started to become available particularly in Germany (the German wiki page is particularly informative: and elsewhere where there are Greek markets such as in New York.

If you’ve succeeded with this herb, please let me know!!

In 2010 I found that another gardener here in Malvik had managed to keep one of the original plants I’d given her alive:









 Here in the Tromsø Botanical Gardens in 2009:









14th June 2015 with Geranium lucidum

It turns out that there are a number of other closely related species also used as herbal tea including S. scardica (Mursalski or Olympus Tea), S. cretica (Crete Mountain Tea, actually from Tenerife!) and (below) S. trojana seen in the Mediterranean garden at Kew OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGardens:


“If you can’t beat them, eat them…”

During my talks I make the suggestion that although there are justifiably invasive unwanted species in our part of the world, there are many “black-listed” plants in my view that we may in the future thank our generation for having introduced due to their being valuable and healthy edibles (the positive impacts of such plants haven’t as far as I know been included in the total evaluation of black listed plants.  There are other positive factors such as Fallopia japonica (Japanese knotweed) being an important bee plant as it is late flowering and also a cultivated source of medicinal resveratrol  (an antioxidant also found in red wine and peanuts).  In my book Around the World in 80 plants, there are about 7 species categorized as having “severe impact” (SE) on the Norwegian Black List, 2 with “high impact” (HI) and at least 6 with “potential high impact” (PH).  At least two others in the book (Dandelion and Ground Elder) are often referred to as invasive, but as they are well established and introduced before 1800 are not on the black list!  As they say  “If you can’t beat them, eat them…” and I might (jokingly) add “If you can’t eat them, beat them”….  ;-)

The link is a recent one arguing against the hysteria by a US based ecologist pointing out that “our panic about invasive species might be a major mistake”

Hampshire’s Watercress Line

Watercress is one of the 80 plants in the book, a plant that has spread worldwide reputedly due to the habit of the Englishman for eating watercress sandwiches on the banks of rivers around the world (the stems root easily!). ;-)  This picture of the Watercress line appeared in the on-line Guardian today:

The Watercress line was opened in 1865 and was well known for its early role transporting locally grown watercress to the markets in London.  The section of  the Watercress Line from Alresford to Alton is operated today as a Heritage railway and I remember taking the kids on it when they were small. I grew up not far away in Eastleigh.

Much more on this plant around the world in the book!


BBCRadio Solent

The distributor who has worked to arrange interviews this week while I’m in the UK didn’t mention I’m a local Hampshire lad. Nevertheless BBC Radio Solent in Southampton and Hilliers Arboretum near Romsey, both within 10 miles of where I grew up,  both picked up on it (the latter will be in May).  Interviewed today about the book on BBC Radio Solent….lots more I wanted to say, but with only 20 minutes available, its not easy… at 1:11:00ish

Edibles & ornamental plants

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